Barnes v. Children's Hosp.

Citation109 Md.App. 543,675 A.2d 558
Decision Date01 September 1995
Docket NumberNo. 729,729
PartiesJoan A. BARNES v. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL, et al. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Keith B. Bartnik, Owings Mills, for Appellant

Carmine T. D'Alessandro (Thomas J. Michels and Peter J. Karceski, Jr., on the brief), Towson, for Appellees.

Argued before WENNER, FISCHER and HOLLANDER, JJ.

Page 550

HOLLANDER, Judge.

In this workers' compensation appeal, we shall examine the "special mission" or "special errand" rule. Joan A. Barnes, appellant, was employed by appellee Children's Hospital ("the Hospital"), in a supervisory capacity. One Saturday, a day on which she did not normally work, Barnes was shopping with her family when she was called to work to perform a task usually handled by a subordinate who was not at work that day. Barnes planned to take her family home before proceeding to work. She also realized that she needed gasoline to make the trip to the Hospital. Consequently, Barnes stopped for gasoline and, while on the premises of the service station, she slipped on a puddle of oil and was injured.

Thereafter, Barnes filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. She alleged that she was acting in the course of her employment at the time of her injury, because she had been on a "special mission" for her employer. The Hospital and its workers' compensation insurance carrier, appellee Injured Workers' Insurance Fund, contested the claim. The Workers' Compensation Commission determined that appellant had not sustained an accidental injury arising out of and in the course of her employment and therefore denied her claim.

Barnes sought review in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. After a bench trial, the court affirmed, holding that Barnes was not on a special mission at the time of her injury. Barnes now appeals and presents the following issues for our consideration:

I. Whether the court was in error in finding that the Appellant was not on a special mission for her employer at the time the injury was sustained.

A. Whether the Appellant was engaged in an emergency and/or irregular and [675 A.2d 562] unusual task for her employer at the time of the injury.

B. Whether the Appellant engaged in a self contained trip that resulted in a deviation from her direct path to her employer's work place.

Page 551

We hold that appellant was on a special mission for the Hospital at the time of her injury. Therefore, the accidental injury she sustained arose out of and in the course of her employment. Accordingly, we shall reverse and remand.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In October 1992, Barnes was employed by the Hospital as director of computer and information systems, a supervisory position for which she received a salary. Her normal working hours were 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, although Barnes usually remained at the office later than 4:30 p.m. Barnes was also considered "on call" at all times. To enable the Hospital to contact Barnes to assist with problems at the office, the Hospital provided her with a beeper. Although it was not unusual for the Hospital to contact her during her off-hours, Barnes usually could resolve problems over the telephone. Nevertheless, at times she would have to travel to the Hospital.

On Saturday, October 3, 1992, Barnes was on a shopping trip with her daughter and granddaughter when Diane Gill, the Hospital's comptroller, paged her on the beeper. Gill informed Barnes that she was needed at the Hospital to work on a monthly accounts receivable report, because the employee who usually performed this work was out on a fishing trip. The report was generated on the third day of each month and, as a supervisor in charge of the Hospital computer systems, Barnes was ultimately responsible for the report once it was produced.

After speaking with Gill, Barnes intended to drive her family home before proceeding to work. She noticed, however, that she did not have enough gasoline to get to the Hospital. Before being called by the hospital, she had not planned to fill her car with gasoline; her son usually did that for her each Sunday. Prior to bringing her family home, Barnes drove to a gasoline service station and, after stepping out of her car, she slipped on a puddle of oil and fell to the ground. She sustained a fracture of her right hand and

Page 552

injuries to her left knee and left shoulder. She has since had three knee operations

In spite of her injuries, Barnes travelled to the Hospital to perform the requested tasks. Because of the fall, her family accompanied her to work, although they had originally intended to go home.

Barnes was terminated by the Hospital on October 25, 1993. Approximately one month later, on November 26, 1993, she filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. After a hearing, the Workers' Compensation Commission determined that appellant had not sustained an accidental personal injury arising out of and in the course of her employment. The circuit court also concluded that appellant's injuries were not compensable, because Barnes had not been on a special mission at the time of her injury. The judge stated:

The case, even if the Court looks at the evidence in the light most favorable to the claimant, and I clearly found the evidence to be very, very credible, as well as the daughter being very, very credible. Again, maybe the Court is incorrect. The Court is of the opinion that because of the claimant's position with the hospital and what normally goes along with any employee who has a beeper and, quote, unquote, on call from time to time, either to correct things by phone or going to work, that the Court finds that the claimant was not on a special errand, and therefore, the Court finds this is not a compensable work-related injury, and, therefore, the Court affirms the decision of the Workers Comp Commission.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Appeals from the Workers' Compensation Commission to the circuit court are conducted essentially as trials de novo. Chadderton v. M.A. Bongivonni, Inc., 101 Md.App. 472, 478, 647 A.2d 137 (1994); General Motors Corp. v. Bark, 79 Md.App. 68, 73-81, 555 A.2d 542 (1989). Therefore, when the circuit court hears the case without a [675 A.2d 563] jury, our review of the factual findings is governed by the "clearly erroneous"

Page 553

standard. Maryland Rule 8-131(c). Kelly Catering, Inc. v. Holman, 96 Md.App. 256, 269, 624 A.2d 1300 (1993), aff'd, 334 Md. 480, 639 A.2d 701 (1994). By statute, "the decision of the Commission is presumed to be prima facie correct." Maryland Code, Labor and Employment Article ("L.E.") § 9-745(b)(1) (1991)

"[O]ur function is not to determine whether we might have reached a different conclusion" on the evidence. Mercedes-Benz v. Garten, 94 Md.App. 547, 556, 618 A.2d 233 (1993). We will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party. Mayor and Council of Rockville v. Walker, 100 Md.App. 240, 256, 640 A.2d 751, cert. granted, 336 Md. 354, 648 A.2d 464 (1994). We also will assume the truth of the evidence presented and give the prevailing party the benefit of all favorable inferences fairly deducible therefrom. Mercedes-Benz, supra, 94 Md.App. at 556, 618 A.2d 233. If there is any competent, material evidence to support the trial court's factual findings, then we cannot set them aside as "clearly erroneous," even if we might have found otherwise. Mayor and Council of Rockville, supra, 100 Md.App. at 256, 640 A.2d 751; Nixon v. State, 96 Md.App. 485, 491-92, 625 A.2d 404, cert. denied, 332 Md. 454, 632 A.2d 151 (1993); Fantasy Valley Resort, Inc. v. Gaylord Fuel Corp., 92 Md.App. 267, 275, 607 A.2d 584, cert. denied, 328 Md. 237, 614 A.2d 83 (1992). But, the "clearly erroneous" standard "does not apply to a trial court's determinations of legal questions or conclusions of law based on findings of fact." Heat & Power Corp. v. Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., 320 Md. 584, 591, 578 A.2d 1202 (1990). Accord Provident Bank v. DeChiaro Limited Partnership, 98 Md.App. 596, 603, 634 A.2d 973 (1993), cert. denied, 334 Md. 210, 638 A.2d 752 (1994).

The Maryland Workers' Compensation Act, which entitles covered employees to compensation for accidental personal injuries that arise "out of and in the course of employment," L.E. §§ 9-101(b), 9-501(a), is a remedial statute. Its provisions are liberally construed in favor of the employee. Lovellette v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore,

Page 554

297 Md. 271, 282, 465 A.2d 1141 (1983); Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc. v. Hempfield, 206 Md. 589, 594, 112 A.2d 488 (1955); Ewing v. Koppers Co., 69 Md.App. 722, 731, 519 A.2d 790 (1987). Thus, any ambiguity in the law is resolved in favor of the claimant. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore v. Cassidy, 338 Md. 88, 97, 656 A.2d 757 (1995); Cline v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 13 Md.App. 337, 344, 283 A.2d 188 (1971), aff'd, 266 Md. 42, 291 A.2d 464 (1972). The doctrine of liberal construction does not mean, however, that coverage may be granted beyond that which is authorized by the provisions of the Act. Tortuga, Inc. v. Wolfensberger, 97 Md.App. 79, 83, 627 A.2d 56, cert. denied, 332 Md. 703, 632 A.2d 1209 (1993)
DISCUSSION
I.

We must resolve whether Barnes's accidental injury arose "out of and in the course of her employment." See L.E. § 9-101(b)(1). The term "out of" employment refers to the cause or origin of the accident. Wiley Manufacturing Co. v. Wilson, 280 Md. 200, 205, 373 A.2d 613 (1977); Proctor-Silex Corp. v. DeBrick, 253 Md. 477, 480, 252 A.2d 800 (1969). Although no exact formula for the matter exists, an injury arises out of employment if it results from the nature, conditions, obligations, or incidents of the employment. Knoche v. Cox, 282 Md. 447, 455, 385 A.2d 1179 (1978); CAM Construction Co. v. Beccio, 92 Md.App. 452, 460, 608 A.2d 1264 (1992), aff'd per curiam, 329 Md. 600, 620 A.2d 939 (1993). Upon consideration of all the circumstances,...

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